erasing clouds

Book Reviews

by Anna Battista

Hugh Collins, Walking Away (Rebel Inc)

At the end of Jack London's "The Star Rover", the main character states, "There is no death. Life is spirit, and spirit cannot die. Only the flesh dies and passes, ever a-crawl with the chemic ferment that informs it, ever plastic, ever crystallizing, only to melt into the flux and to crystallize into fresh and diverse forms that are ephemeral and that melt back into the flux. Spirit alone endures and continues to build upon itself through successive and endless incarnations as it works upward toward the light. What shall I be when I live again? I wonder. I wonder..." But instead of wondering what he shall be when he lives again, like the prisoner in London's book, Hugh Collins wonders, while in prison, when he will finally be free and be back to his ordinary life once again.

Sentenced to life murder in 1977, released in 1992, after serving 16 years of his sentence, Collins thought that his dream of getting out of prison had been finally fulfilled. Little did he think that once out he would have had to cope with his family, friends and with the media who physically haunt his life, filming him everywhere he goes. This follow up to Autobiography of a Murderer is not a proper autobiography, but it's just Collins getting down to analyse the scars left by his prison life: "Yes, I'm walking, walking away", Collins writes, "Walking behind these old ghosts, talking with living people, living there in those places, through writing only, through memory, remembering." Battling in a personal Culloden, Collins, away from his home town of Glasgow which he can't stand anymore, tries to adapt to his new life in Edinburgh getting married, witnessing the death of his relatives and friends, writing and sculpting. Written in Scottish, since Collins wisely chooses to follow the advice of one of his friends to write as he talks, this is a mind shattering and sometimes unsettling account of the aftermath of prison life. "Under the heavens, under the stars,/ ... Under sedation, face pale and tired,/Under observation, monitored and wired./Now under lock and key, blinded by visions./Serving his sentence with no remission./... Under the baton, under the cosh,/Under the water with a deep sense of loss./Under the moon where space isn't wasted,/the champagne and caviar he never tasted./Still under fifty, consumed with rage,/...Watching and waiting without a sound./No-one can hear him, no-one can see/What does he look like?/He looks just like...You." Scarily, the words of Edinburgh's poet Jock Scot distantly seem to evoke Hugh Collins' life, the life of somebody who's often been seen as a murderer and who re-establishes his proper dimension as a man through his new found life and his writing. (,

Steve Lamacq, Going Deaf for a Living (BBC)

If you think that music obsessed people only existed in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity's world, well, then you're really wrong. And here's pronto an example for you: music-journalist-turned-label-owner-turned-Radio-1-DJ Steve Lamacq. After his first gig to see The Undertones, Lamacq gets desperately hooked by going to gigs and by music that the latter becomes not an obsession but a proper reason for living. Hence writing the fanzine A Pack of Lies can only be the prologue to a career as NME journalist, while passing through different phases of his life, from punk, through the Madchester scene to the confounding '90s, the period in which he happened to be the co-star of the disgraceful Richey Manics episode and of the (in)famous interview with messed up Gallagher brothers. Stagediving at Carter USM, launching Elastica on Deceptive label, discovering the once-Seymour-now-Blur, meeting Nirvana, witnessing grunge and Britpop exploding, then going to work for Radio 1, getting deaf and wet at mud invaded summer festivals and finding the light in Fatboy Slim's words "get out of the indie guitar ghetto ... Dance music's where all the new ideas are happening", are just a few highlights of his story. This book has got the flaw of being a compendium of Steve Lamacq's Melody Maker regular columns, so it's nothing new for the MM readers, though it is an exact account of a passion that only those who have can understand, a passion for good music and not "a definite history of the music itself", but more a story of his own "pop world."

Mark Manning, Crucify Me Again (Codex Books)

Psychotic, freaked out and deranged Mark Manning, also known under the name of his split personality Zodiac Mindwarp, psychotic leader of the metal band the Love Reaction, defined by the author himself as "a band of borderline psychotics", has finally written the recount of his twisted life. Divided in seven sections, Fucked, School, Rock, Women, Intoxication, Art and Life and enriched by Manning's own schizoid sketches and drawings, the book is part real biography, part twisted memoir of an improbable life and gathers bizarre freaked out events which range from petty episodes taken from his school memories to recollections of groupies and women, from his addiction to LSD and alcohol to his passion for art. The reader finds difficult to understand when the author is lying and when he is telling the truth, the line between truth and fakedness being a thin line that consequentially nullifies when Manning confesses he has become, as the time passed, a professional liar.

All the same this book has got its poetical moments in "Pink Mastodons", a recount of his alcohol dependence and "Atalanta", a very Richard Brautigan like moment, apart from the usual brilliant asseveration about pop music like "Sting doing his tantric wanking. Robbie, desperate for your love and attention, standing on his head and telling jokes with his arse. Blur? Damon whingeing about his equally attention-seeking bitch dog of a girlfriend ... Oasis? White trash with money". You're warned: this is a trashy mock heroic autobiography of one of the most fucked up heroes on the music scene. (

Mark Manning, Get Your Cock Out (Creation Books)

Ah, love. Love between a hard rocker and a fan, bit of a stereotyped plot that you might find in a cheap book at a jumble sale, but it sounds like a Cinderella story come true: oh joy, what a romance! Er, not really if it's written by Mark Manning. Oh shit, listen to this: Mincey, drugged up to his eyeballs (literally, as he is obliged to inject in the bulb of his eye...), leader of The Leather Cowboys, falls in love with Dandelion Dandelion, sex crazed fan of the band, who is kidnapped by the leader of a rival rock band, Peter Darklord. Luckily for her, everything will be settled down and the girl will be rescued, after having been almost massacred to death, by, surprise-surprise, Manning's alternative personality, the musician, genius writer and dandy extraordinaire Zodiac Mindwarp, his army of Aztecs of Sodom warriors and Bill Drummond, in real life a half of situationist band the KLF, here first rate excromancer, a magician who can read in his own shit the fate of the other people. Blood, orgies, cocaine fuelled parties, murdering scenes, massacres, chopped limbs, blasphemy and random tortures a la Marquis De Sade: this book has it all, living up to its disgusting-warning blurbs. A cutting and disgusting bloodinyourfacemagicplot: like Italian porno trash movie Spell, De Sade's Philosophy in the Boudoir and the worst cocaine-crazed rock tour by the worst band on the planet all rolled into one. Wicked. (

James Meek, The Museum of Doubt (Rebel Inc)

Mikhail Bakhtin wrote an exhaustive analysis of the various genres of the novel, but I'm pretty sure he would have had quite a few problems in defining and pigeonholing James Meek's works. But fuck Bakhtin, when you've got talent. Author of two proper novels, McFarlane Boils the Sea and Drivetime and of a collection of short stories, Last Orders, James Meek's latest work is a new collection of surrealistically real stories: in "The Museum of Doubt" a salesman reaches an empty house and finally understands that you don't need too many objects and trinkets to live a happy life; "Bonny Boat Speed" is the story of the apocrypha writer Arnold who scares to death a friend on a speedy journey to catch the last ferry of the night; the very Iain Banks like "The Queen of Ukraine" is a startling piece of fiction; the brilliant and funny "Management Secrets of the Nazi Generals" takes place on the eve of repeal of cannabis law when the multinational tobacco corporations prepare to take on the market with ready made reeferettes; "Class Action" is a cross between Dante's Inferno, Virgil's description of the infernal region in Aeneid and Orpheus's myth, but here a lost causes lawyer descends in the afterworld to convince the dead to sue against the responsible of their death. And if that's not enough you might want to check the psychopathic saga of Gordon, scattered in various episodes that create intervals between one story and the other. Meek's magic stands in his narrative ability, which make the reader believe that an antler's head might come out of the mouth of a man. Suspension of disbelief? No, talent, more like. (,

Ian Winn, The Techno-Pagan Octopus Messiah (I.M.P. Fiction)

Take a precious stone, a gem, take it in your hands and admire it. What do you see? Millions of colours reflecting on its multiple facets, millions of lights beaming from its interstices and millions of little shiny rainbows bouncing back from the surface of the solid jewel directly into your eyes. Amazing. Amazing just like this story which has the same millions of colours, of facets, of lights and of rainbows shining from its pages. Ian Winn's first novel is indeed the story of a personal quest, narrated in prose and in verse, in weird and sometimes rhyming, funny lines, evoking every now and then the teachings of psychonaut Terence McKenna. Winn's protagonist is an American Jew tourist, who passes from town to town, from country to country, leaving from Amsterdam to reach Cairo, Bombay, New Delhi, Rishikesh, Jaisalmer and so on, almost convincing himself that he is the new Messiah: "I'm a mutt, a religious mix breed/Jewish by birth, Hindu by dreams/Buddhist by spirit, Pagan by trees/The Techno-Pagan Octopus Messiah, indeed!", Winn's writes in one of his long narrative poems, inspired by his Muse, what he calls The Serpent of Poetry, summoned up by the protagonist's idol, Terence McKenna's DMT, dimethyl tryptamine. "Under the influence of DMT, the world becomes an Arabian labyrinth, a palace, a more than possible Martian jewel, vast with motifs that flood the gaping mind with complex and wordless awe", McKenna wrote in his seminal "Food of the Gods", and in Winn's novel, the world truly becomes a labyrinth, the adventures stretching from finding an amethyst in a crack in a pyramid in Egypt and thinking that it's a dragon egg, to hanging around with the troupe of a weird American project, The Silly Straw Experience, to meeting saddhus, spending time in bhang shops, buying precious stones at outrageous prices, living in Osho's commune and offering a lingam in a temple. In the end the main character, remains caught up in a dilemma, "Right now I'm stuck on question number one: Am I the Techno- Pagan Octopus Messiah? ... all of us are our own Messiahs and mine is of the Techno-Pagan Octopus variety."

The octopus, Winn's totemic animal, was considered by McKenna as a creature which had "perfected a form of communication that is both psychedelic and telepathic - an inspiring model for the human communications of the future", but it also seems to have perfected a narrative form for Winn's talent to express. (,

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